The Health Ministry on Monday launched a monthlong “Two Drop” campaign of attenuated oral polio vaccine (OPV) for children from age four months through 9.5 years in well-baby (tipat halav) centers in the south of the country.

Ninety-eight percent of the population has already received injected killed polio virus vaccine (IPV).

The aim is to wipe out the wild polio virus in the sewage in the area that has turned some two dozen people – mostly children – into healthy carriers of the virus and threatens to infect the small minority who had not previously received the IPV.

The exact boundaries of the area where the ministry will provide the vaccine is available on its website at www.health.gov.il or from its Voice of Health phone center at *5400. Only children who were born after January 1, 2004, are supposed to get the drops.

The ministry came under pressure from the World Health Organization, which six weeks ago sent three experts here to learn how the virus – which apparently arrived from Egypt or elsewhere in Africa – got into the sewage; the foreign experts worried that it could spread elsewhere.

Although the ministry has said the hundreds of thousands of imported doses of OPV are safe, officials hesitated for weeks to give it to young children who have already been vaccinated with IPV at the age of two months, four months, six months, 12 months and in second grade.

The campaign, due to cost several million shekels, comes at a time when families are on vacation throughout Israel and abroad and children are out of classrooms. For the campaign to succeed, parents have to take their children to tipat halav clinics for the painless vaccination.

Until the end of 2008, the ministry routinely gave children OPV in addition to IPV, but it stopped this under the advice of the WHO, which thought it was no longer necessary.

The new OPV formula, with two rather than three strains, is even less likely to cause the paralytic disease – an extremely rare complication – than the previous one.

Not a single Israeli or tourist in the country has come down with actual polio.

Nearly 25 years ago, a number of cases of the paralytic disease in adults and children led to a similar OPV campaign among all adults under the age of 40 throughout the country.

The IPV shot protects the individual who received it; the OPV drops enter the gastroenterological system and protect those who have not received the shot, via contact with feces.

Adults – parents, caregivers and nursery school teachers – are asked to observe good hygienic practices by washing hands with soap and water after changing diapers and before touching food.

Since the first evidence of wild polio virus was found randomly in sewage in the South in February, the ministry has been checking stool samples and testing sewage samples in the South and in other parts of the country.

Giving IPV to children in the area who had not previously been vaccinated did not succeed in completely wiping out the virus.

The virus enters the body via the mouth and is eliminated in the stools. Only one person out of 1,000 who has not been vaccinated by IPV will contract the paralytic disease.

If the child is due to get the OPV but has a fever, the parent should wait to take him to the tipat halav clinic. It should also not be given if the child has a first-degree relative with a weak immune system.

The disease is spread among children, thus adults who already received IPV (and probably OPV) are already protected.

OPV cannot be purchased privately; it is available only at tipat halav clinics.

If a schoolchild has not yet received the drops when he returns to class, he can get OPV from the school nurse. If residents of the Center or the North are staying in the South for a minimum of a week, children up to the age of nine should receive the drops, the ministry said. Children born before 2004 will not be vaccinated with OPV. Neither is there a need to give drops to tourists.

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